Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reading Our Family History

As our friend Evelyn Underhill writes, “the proper feeding of our own devotional life must . . . include the rightful use of spiritual reading.

“Spiritual reading is, or at least it can be, second only to prayer as a developer and support of the inner life . . . It should not be confined to Scripture, but should also include at least the lives and writings of the canonized and uncanonized saints.

“If we do it properly, such reading is a truly social act. It gives us not only information, but communion . . . with the great souls of the past, who are the pride and glory of the Christian family. Studying their lives and work slowly and with sympathy, reading the family history, the family letters; trying to grasp the family point of view, we gradually discover these people to be in origin though not in achievement very much like ourselves.

“They are people who are devoted to the same service, handicapped often by the very same difficulties; and yet whose victories and insights humble and convict us . . . The Confessions of St. Augustine, the Life of St Teresa, the little book of Brother Lawrence, the Journals of Fox, Woolman and Wesley—the meditative, gentle, receptive reading of this sort of literature immensely enlarges our social and spiritual environment.

“It is one of the ways in which the communion of saints can be most directly felt by us.

“In the saints we always have the bracing society of keen Christians . . . Their personal influence radiates, centuries after they have left the earth, reminding us of the infinite variety of ways in which the Spirit of God acts on people through people . . .

“The saints are the great experimental Christians, who, because of their unreserved self-dedication, have made the great discoveries about God, and, as we read their lives and works, they will impart to us just so much of these discoveries as we are able to bear. Indeed, as we grow more and more, the saints tell us more and more: disclosing at each fresh reading secrets that we did not suspect.

“Their books are the work of specialists, from whom we can humbly learn more of God and of our own souls” (Concerning The Inner Life, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 1999, page 54-56).

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